Moments after the most competitive high school linemen drills in America ended, an unassuming Rashan Gary quietly grinned along the sidelines while standing yards away from the nation's beastly blockers.
The disruptive and diffident defensive tackle still wore his shoulder pads, soaking in those final moments at The Opening, an annual football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
A few feet further toward the end zone, top-rated 2015 offensive tackle Martez Ivey was occupied with questions concerning his highly publicized nationwide recruitment.
Sensing the 6'6", 270-pound Floridian has grown weary of discussing the likes of Alabama, LSU and Auburn, our conversation shifts to Gary, one of just three 2016 prospects invited to compete during a three-day stretch that features more than 150 prized recruits.
Ivey interrupts the initial question with an unfamiliar inflection in his voice, breaking out of well-versed reactions to personal recruiting questions.
"Wait, hold on," Ivey said. "He's only going to be a junior?"
The 6'4.5", 290-pound specimen who spent his week making coveted collegiate offensive linemen targets look silly in the trenches still has two high school seasons ahead of him.
"Whoa, I had no idea," Ivey said. "He definitely stepped up his game. That's pretty crazy. The guy deserves a lot of credit for how he handles himself."
Fellow 5-star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt shared that sentiment and surprise.
"Like most of the linemen, I didn't find out he's a rising junior until the final day of competition," the Clemson commit admitted. "We just assumed he was another senior, especially based on the way he competed. It was a shock for sure."
Gary, just one month removed from his sophomore year, proved he belongs among established prospects who will compete for playing time in college next summer.
"He's way above his level when compared to other players at that age," said Hyatt. "He's going to be fun to watch in the future because he has everything a defensive lineman needs to be dominant at the next level."
Gary knew his status as a 2016 recruit—the only lineman to carry that distinction in Beaverton—created a slight underdog persona. Despite his soft-spoken demeanor and off-field congeniality, he instead played the role of aggressor.
"I'm young so I still make simple mistakes sometimes, but there's no one I can't handle," Gary said. "The guys who found out about my age wanted to test me and see if I really deserved a spot at The Opening."
He emphatically answered that challenge, according to Ivey.
"He's isn't just big; he's fast off the ball and stays low," Ivey said. "He's very physical too and doesn't let opponents get into his head. That's great to see out of a young guy."
Gary left no doubt about his status as a premier member of the 2016 recruiting class.
"I feel like he's in the same position as us, ready to go off to college somewhere next season," Ivey said.
However, when Ivey and other linemen at The Opening embark on the next chapter of their playing careers at campuses across the country, Gary will still be concerned about chasing down New Jersey state titles. He transferred to Paramus Catholic High School from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in June.
The team featured 5-star athlete Jabrill Peppers last season. The Michigan freshman also arrived at Paramus Catholic (from Don Bosco Prep) with plenty of fanfare.
Gary, rated No. 5 overall in 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings, also follows in his footsteps when it comes to collegiate attention. He holds nearly 20 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Miami, Ohio State, USC, Penn State and Tennessee.
"When I first started to get recruited, I came into it with an open mind," Gary said. "Things picked up really fast and have stayed that way, so now I need to think about cutting down the list."
Like many top prospects, he admits the SEC is appealing.
"It felt like things really reached a new level when the SEC offers started arriving," Gary said. "When I realized those teams decided early that they want me, it was an honor. That's grown-man football."
Hyatt, who committed to Clemson after his junior season, stressed the importance of patience for a young phenom on the recruiting trail.
"Rashan needs to just take it one step at a time for as long as he needs," Hyatt said. "Sometimes it's easy to feel rushed into making a decision, and that could be the case for him. Because he's so talented, plenty of teams are going to put the pressure on him to commit."
Gary stressed there's no timetable in place for a decision, and the process could stretch to national signing day 2016 if necessary. He broke down several key elements of his recruitment with Bleacher Report in July:
"Some of the older guys have given me plenty of advice about different stuff, on and off the field," he said. "They've talked to me about recruiting, how to figure out who is real or fake, and now I need to use those lessons as I continue down this road."
Though he was relegated to nose tackle duties—an unnatural position for his skill set—Gary managed 58 tackles, including 13 for loss and four forced fumbles in 2013, per Todderick Hunt of NJ.com.
The 3-technique or 5-technique appears to be the more appropriate landing spot for him in college. While sliding outside, he can use his speed (clocked at 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening) to exploit space and provide an interior pass rush.
"He was great and we all noticed it throughout the week," 5-star Texas A&M defensive tackle commit Daylon Mack said. "You're watching a 2016 guy with big size, rare speed and dreadlocks that make him look dangerous. Some might have questioned his toughness, but when Rashan put on the pads, he didn't disappoint."
Gary consistently outpaced opponents in Oregon, sprinting back to the defensive line with a workmanlike approach once the whistle blew. It was the same style of play Gary exhibited when he dominated at Nike's regional football camp in New Jersey this spring, earning the rare invite to national competition.
"When we first arrived, I thought, 'man, this kid is going to be weak,'" 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell said. "But he earned his invitation for a reason. That was obvious from the start."
Burrell took that praise one step further, sending a strong message about Gary's impression in Beaverton.
"I think he could be the top player in our class, let alone his own," he said. "Those 2016 offensive linemen are in trouble with him around."
Texas Tech defensive tackle commit Breiden Fehoko admired Gary's ability to bring tenacity to every element of his game.
"He's a quiet guy who puts in work on the field and in the film room," Fehoko said. "The kid has strength and length that's rare at his age. First and foremost, he works his butt off during drills, and that translates into the one-on-ones, where you really build your reputation."
Gary appreciated the opportunity to battle with college-bound blockers, dealing with the ups and downs of brutality along the line of scrimmage.
"I'm going to get a lot better because now I really have a feel for what it's like to be challenged by the best offensive linemen in the country," he said. "I can't wait to get back here again next year, compete against a new group of guys and show how I've improved."
Alabama freshman Da'Shawn Hand, one of the top-ranked 2014 defensive ends, was a rare two-time Opening attendee. Mack foresees a similar fate for Gary.
"Next year, it's all his," Mack said. "Rashan will be back to dominate at The Opening, and I believe he'll be the top player in the country."
Gary isn't the kind of athlete to brag about his abilities and came off as a kid who was just happy to be invited to the party in Oregon. That's fine, since plenty of top competitors were willing to do the talking for him.
"He's pretty silent like you'd expect from a lot of younger players," Mack said. "But don't get me wrong, his game is not quiet. Rashan makes loud statements with what he does on the field."
All quotes courtesy of B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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